A decade or two hence, when some student architect writes a paper on the history of the automated home, he or she will discover a series of watershed moments that preceded the “perfect storm” that led us to the current terrain of tech in the home. While an exhaustive study will go all the way back to Nikola Tesla and his experiments in 1898 using radio waves to operate a boat, the more apparent origins date to 1950, when TV maker Zenith realised you could operate a television by remote control with a wire. Better still would be to start with the same company’s wireless remote of 1956.
From those single-purpose origins for early TV sets to today’s app-driven commands, tech-heads have managed to control just about anything that uses electricity, only now with a simplicity and competence to dazzle even those who thought they were comprehensively “wired” in the late 1990s. Today’s perfect storm is the culmination of the most important trend in all of home automation: convergence.
Like any gathering force, a number of events and inventions brought technology to the point where we are on the threshold of total, glitch-free control. Universal control languages adopted by independent manufacturers, plug-and-play hardware via USB, Wi-Fi or Bluetooth wireless connectivity all have played a part.
Probably the only areas that seem to be still in their infancy are the highly-topical wearable tech and – eventually – thought transmission. The Nintendo Wii console and other gaming devices are simply the hors d’oeuvres that show how the wave of a hand can do more than dim your lights, while smart watches relaying messages to both your home or your physician are available right now.
Burglar alarms that contact the local police have been around for decades, as have affordable timers to switch your lights on and off to create the impression of an occupied home. But now companies such as Crestron can provide a means for you to look into your house while you’re a continent away via CCTV, and you can activate lights and blinds remotely to suggest that you are at home. It has developed the technology into an app, too, whileIdeaworks tailors the automation and control to the user’s lifestyle and preferences with its proprietary mesh technology.
One of the most innovative developments that ensures the future will operate at your command is demonstrated by companies teaming up to accomplish even more than they could on their own. Electrolux and Poggenpohl, for example, devised a kitchen called “The Fourth Wall,” truly a moveable feast that choreographs “the six spaces integral to the traditional kitchen.” Hiding, appearing and illuminated upon demand, are the butler’s pantry, larder, wine store, pastry counter, preparation bench and dining area. In addition to its undeniable convenience, temperature control and other functional niceties, it also maximises the use of space.
Music, movies and gaming, however, will remain the most appealing elements of the automated home because they are entertaining rather than time-saving or security-enhancing. The recent announcement that IMAX has readied a version of its spectacular cinema experience for home installation suggests
that there are no limits. In-home holographic media? Contacting your kids not with mere texts but in the style of Princess Leia sending messages via R2D2 soon may not be restricted to science fiction.
With refrigerators that can now tell your supermarket delivery service that you’re low on milk, with the inevitable medical communications monitoring our health (both via the aforementioned smart watches
and online consultations), and with cars that will probably advance from self-parking to entering the garage, while our wellbeing might be more sharply observed than ever, we will inevitably grow lazier and fatter.
So all is not bliss, and one should watch cautionary tales like Fritz Lang’s Metropolis or Blade Runner; far less comforting and gleaming than The Jetsons. It was recently reported that a robot vacuum cleaner in South Korea attacked its sleeping owner, sucking up her hair. Newspapers were filled with Shock! Horror! stories earlier this year about smart TVs not only watching but recording the sights and sounds of their viewers, relaying the information back to the manufacturers.
Tech going haywire is nothing new, and we wouldn’t have Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece, 2001: A Space Odyssey, if all went well. But the odds of your music server frying your Shar Pei are remote. As in “remote control”. For now, enjoy your at-home IMAX, embrace your moveable walls and revel in the ultimate in innovative technology from the comfort of your Le Corbusier chair.